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Mari Walker’s heartfelt and compelling directorial debut “See You Then” beholds a reunion between two people who used to be lovers in college, and have since gone on to live different lives. Naomi (Lynn Chen) has lost some of her artistic and activist flair, and is now a mother to two kids, and a wife in a marriage that sounds more convenient than it is romantic. Kris (Pooya Mohseni) used to date Naomi, until suddenly ditching her years ago with no explanation. Kris has transitioned in the past year, and learned in that timeframe what it’s like to be a woman. “We’ve got a lot to talk about,” their conversation starts, and it becomes quickly apparent that there’s always more to their initially amiable chatter.
Written with balanced conciseness and spaciousness by Walker and Kristen Uno, “See You Then” is a dialogue-driven character study that makes you want to know more about Kris and Naomi, and doesn’t get caught up in exposition that would make more clear the story’s intentions of touching on the past while reflecting the future. One of the best things about the script is that its discussion topics pop up naturally, and fill in emotional and historical space without losing the pacing. Mohseni and Chen are an excellent on-screen pair throughout with their crisply edited banter, sometimes at odds with each other given the past hurt that Naomi remembers far more vividly than Kris. Mohseni’s genuine warmth makes Kris’ defensiveness all the more layered, showing the tragedy in a meaningful connection that was nearly lost forever.
As they sit and sometimes walk, their discussions touch on topics that are striking on their own, like Naomi’s practical life choices, or Kris’ experience from a year ago in transitioning, and Kris’ desire to become a mother. “See You Then” often ambles into spiky territory whenever Naomi calls out Kris’ previous actions back in the college days, as part of an identity that Kris has moved on from in only certain ways. Meanwhile Naomi's sullen ruminations about motherhood, drawn out by Kris, give loving space to the complications that come with such a demanding role. Later on in the night, the two stop by to see Naomi's kids. When Naomi puts one of them to bed, you can see their conversation in her troubled gaze as she looks at the sleeping child.
You enjoy being in the company of Kris and Naomi so much that the inevitable climax—a mystery for a long time as to what that may be—is nearly dreaded. How could this movie pull off a meaningful but inevitable clash, given all the tenderness from before? But it does so beautifully, tying everything together with details that have been in between the pauses of their conversations. And because of Naomi’s artistry background, it even unfolds with a visual backdrop that naturally gives a lot of color, the camera spinning around them. It’s a stylized departure from the previously restrained style, and it helps Walker’s selective but deliberate flourishes further leave their collective mark.
Like other great walk-and-talk movies, “See You Then” is told with a deceptive ease—it makes a discussion between two characters, with a few locations and supporting characters (mostly men who hit on Kris) look “easy,” despite the ambition. Walker and cinematographer Jordan T. Parrott are deeply in tune with how the slightest shot change or technique can impact the whole feeling of a moment. It’s the difference between watching Kris and Naomi lightly banter at a booth as silhouettes, with a static, stable camera, and then seeing them at the bar, the handheld camera slightly shaky, their conversation loosened up, the darkness pushed to the side, by a third or fourth round of drinks. The sullen beats between them then become even more noticeable, and the voyeurism of the movie is all the more seductive.
With fascinating confidence, “See You Then” honors the gradual evolution of a long talk, so much that their literal pacing reads as its only unnatural flourish—they take several minutes to walk about two blocks. But that rhythm, of one step at a time, nearly takes on a hypnotic effect. It forces the viewer to slow down and drink it all in, and focus on what Kris and Naomi are not saying to each other.
Now playing in select theaters and available on DVD and digital on April 19.